Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Concepcion: Iloilo’s hidden gem

Nestled in Northern Iloilo, is the steadily tranquil municipality of Concepcion. It is a laid-back town with cheerful and kind Ilonggos living in a quiet community. But beyond its quietness and charming character, Concepcion is a hidden gem to discover. It is a hidden gem of Iloilo province for its underrated sights and undiscovered beauty that I’m glad to uncover.

Who wouldn't jump to see this stunning beauty of Concepcion's hidden gem?
Concepcion has been fascinating me ever since I read about it on online sites, particularly in Explore Iloilo. So when I had a chance to visit Iloilo, I really tried to include it in my trip to it even though I know it is quite far from Iloilo City. We travelled to Concepcion, via a 3 hour bus ride on Ceres Liner at Iloilo’s Tagbak Terminal – where buses bound for Northern Iloilo are stationed.  The 3 hour bus ride is plies through the scenic rice paddies and forestry ranges of Iloilo’s northern municipalities of Barotac Viejo, Ajuy and Sara.

The municipality of Concepcion is a coastal town located at the northeastern part of Iloilo Province. The municipality occupies the territorial water towards Visayan Sea where on its bay are 16 islands that are considered gems for its beautiful beaches, coral gardens, mountain islands, land formations and rich marine life. The islands mostly appeared as half-drowned mountains jutting out from the sea but mostly surrounded by white sand beaches, azure waters and rocky stones. It is in these islands lies the true beauty of Concepcion being lead by the commanding view of the tallest point of Pan de Azucar island or Mount Manaphag from the sea that makes it the landmark of the municipality.

Hotel Junbee facade.
Around Hotel Junbee - our accomodation in Concepcion.
After a long road trip, we alighted at Concepcion Public Plaza on where Hotel Junbee is just a short walking distance. We were gladly received by its owners, Mr. Jun Garilva and Mrs. Rubenie Garilva whom warmly welcome us in their charming hotel. Hotel Junbee is a three floor hotel which faces the shores of Concepcion Bay. It has a view deck for its visitors to appreciate the sea and the bay, where one can already see the islands of Concepcion from the distance. They also arranged our island hopping tour to the Concepcion islands since they have a contact with boat men who offer this kind of trips.

Breaking dawn in Concepcion.
My exploration of Iloilo’s so called “hidden gem” starts a view of dawn from Hotel Junbee’s terrace view deck. I woke up 5 in the morning expecting to catch my first Concepcion sunrise from the terrace balcony of our accommodation room.  I still felt dizzy from a morning wake along with recovery of tiredness from our trip yesterday from Iloilo City. But the view I saw from the terrace was something gorgeous to make up my first great morning and sunrise hunt in Concepcion. From the terrace, I marvel on the view of Concepcion’s coastal port with cloud patched sky from upper view, a middle view of mountain islands and down to a view of vast calm sea - all bade in blue hue of morning dawn. I thought while in marvel that everything seems to be touched by the Goddess of the Dawn.

This view is something new for me as I used to view sunsets in coastal beaches. I love sunset views for its magnificent and stunning moment. But dawn is a beholding sight that cannot be ignored! I did not expect my sunrise hunt will turn to witnessing a beautiful dawn in Concepcion. It was my first dawn catch and it was a grateful morning I ever had. It can be suitably called blue morning but as blue dawn color painted the whole beautiful scenery of Concepcion’s coastal port.  Aside from the vast sea and islands that as far as my eyes can see, even coconut trees standing along the port and bancas (outrigger boats) docked in the shore were all painted in blue. It was a like a royal moment for the Goddess of the Dawn – Aurora.
The 16 hidden gems of Concepcion is waiting...
The beauty of Agho Island. It will capture your heart literally!
I wish every morning I always get this kind of dawn view. It evokes feelings of calmness, serenity and clear thoughts. I don’t get this kind of stunning view everyday or even every morning at least. So I quickly decided to get my camera to capture this beautiful morning moment in Concepcion that “goddess Aurora” is offering!

At six in the morning, we started our island hopping exploration of Concepcion’s gem islands. It was so early because we learned that islands are 20 to 30 minutes apart from each other and our time spent on the island will definitely consume our travel time. As we sailed through the Concepcion Bay, I can already see islands which mostly are mountain islands jutting from the sea. And the most visible of them all is Pan de Azucar. It is the biggest and most popular among Concepcion’s 16 islands. Its tallest point is Mount Manaphag which was clearly visible among the islands of Concepcion which makes Pan de Azucar Island a popular scenery of the municipality. Mount Manaphag was actually the star of my dawn viewing and everywhere you go, this mountain point will capture your attention. No wonder Pan de Azucar was the landmark of Concepcion. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit the island as part of island hopping trip due to limited time we had.

The rocky side of Agho Island.
I was instantly challenged to do a mountain climbing for this activity with Suba looking at how I will face the challenge.
Malangabang Island while exploring Agho Island.
It was still quite dark but the sky from dawn but it started to shed light after 30 minutes of sailing through the sea and we arrived to our first island destination – Agho Island.  The island is an undiscovered island gem for its beautiful white sand beaches and sand bars that is beautifully surrounded by a 360 degree seascape view of other island gems of Concepcion. Half of the island is bounded by white sand beach and stunning sandbars and half of it are dotted with rocky formations and black rocky beach. What a unique combination of land formation in one island!

Agho Island is beach-lovers and sun-worshipper's paradise!
The caretaker and her family who are the sole inhabitant of the island warmly receive us and guided us on a round-the-island tour of Agho which we were surprised because the island is big enough but can be tour around for 30 minutes. We were also welcomed by Suba, the family’s pet dog who also join in our tour of Agho Island. Our tour started with a walk through the clam garden being taken care of the caretaker for sometime already. Then, we proceed with an exploration of the island’s rocky beach side which was mainly composed of black smooth rocks by the beach. I had difficulty walking on the rocky terrain but I easily passed it! We reached the rocky north point end of the island where there’s a challenge first before you proceed to the next side of Agho – you have to do a mini rock climbing down a side cliff. Though, the cliff is not that really high, it was still a challenge and life risky because if you fall, you fall to the rocks first before the water. The caretaker, said it was the easiest way to cross the other side of the island, the other one was going through a thick forest of small palm trees which will take time. And so with quite nervousness, I had to do it! Slowly, yet careful holding on the wall rocks, I did it with flying colors! But Suba was way more quick and easy in crossing the cliff!

Touchdown Bolobadiangan Island also known as Sandbar Island.
Resident resort of Bolobadiangan Island.
 The other side of Agho Island is mostly composed of smooth black rock formation by the seaside where we walkthrough with a thick forest of trees going to the inner side of the island. As you walk towards south of the island, I saw Malangabang Island, another gem island of Concepcion. Reaching the south side which where we started, we are greeted with a marvelous and stunning sandbar of Agho Island facing Pan de Azucar and its nearby islands. It was the most priceless view of Concepcion that I have seen! It made do a jump shot with almost a shout of “I’ve seen an ocean at last!” like any kid seeing his toy at last. The south point of Agho island is also dotted with numerous palm trees and a kubo that makes up a truly paradise scene for visitors to enjoy. And what a gorgeous seascape of Concepcion islands it has that you can enjoy in a 360 degree viewing while on a standpoint at Agho Island!   

Welcome to Bolobadiangan Island!
Danao Danao Island - one of the 16 island gems of Concepcion.
Then, we travel for 30 minutes for our next island to visit. Once you arrive in the island, what you will notice is its long stretch of powdery white sandbar where at the tip, you’re boat will dock. It’s popularly known as Sandbar Island but for its sandbar beauty but it is accurately named Bolobadiangan Island (also spelled, Bulubadiangan).  It is home of Sandbar Island Beach Resort where visitors can rent nipa hut rooms for overnight stay at the island. Just be sure to bring food to cook in the island since it is far from Concepcion mainland. The best thing to do in Bolobadiangan Island is to frolic in the vast white sandbar of the island and appreciating the scenic seascape around the island just like what we did. One of the beautiful islands you’ll appreciate its beauty is Danao Danao Island which is the nearest to Bolobadiangan Island. These activities are enough to appreciate this island but the real beauty of Bolobadiangan Island is its huge and long sandbar. And I’m glad that the caretaker of the island is maintaining it clean and beautiful.

Exploring the sandbar beauty of Bolobadiangan Island.
3 hours on the road again is worth it!
 After Bolobadiangan Island, we returned to Concepcion mainland feeling delighted with the exploration of its hidden gems. The beauty of nature I found there is priceless and marvelous. I hope the people of Concepcion continue to preserve and maintain its beauty so many can witness and experience it. As I traveled back again to Iloilo City for three hours with my travelmates, the beauty of Concepcion’s islands plays repeatedly in my mind. Stunning seascapes, charming islands and sun-kissed white beaches, Concepcion is truly a hidden gem of Iloilo. I’m sure anyone would agree whoever comes to experience it. 

Concepcion: Iloilo's hidden gem is part of my trip series of the same title that tells about my travel stories on my visit to Iloilo's northern municipality of Concepcion last July 10-11, 2012. To learn more about Concepcion, read Explore Iloilo's website. You might also like the other parts of the series: 
1. The Goddess of Dawn in Concepcion
2. Concepcion: Iloilo's hidden gem
3. Agho Island: An undiscovered island gem
4. Bolobodiangan Island's sandbar beauty
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